You stretch your arm to grab something and feel a stabbing pain in your shoulder. You also have trouble raising the hand or feel it has become weak. If these sound familiar, rotator cuff injuries or inflammation may be to blame. The rotator cuff is a bunch of muscles and tendons – the strong chords that attach your muscles to bones – that encircle your shoulder joint. Your rotator cuff holds your shoulder joint in the proper position and enables it to move. Overuse of the shoulder, injury, or even aging-related degeneration can result in inflammation and irritation of tendons. The pain that follows may make it difficult to do simple things which involve raising your arm above shoulder level – like brushing your hair or putting on a t-shirt.
If you are not able to raise an arm or move the shoulder because of pain or are feeling its range of motion is affected, see a doctor. Mild to moderate strain should heal with some care and rest, but if there is a tear in the muscle or tendon, it needs medical attention.
If you have torn a tendon or muscle, you’ll have intense pain as well as weakness in your shoulder and arm. Your doctor may prescribe painkillers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to handle the pain as well as physical therapy to improve rotator cuff problems. In some cases, surgery might also be needed to treat rotator cuff tears.1 In mild to moderate cases of rotator cuff injury, these solutions can help you tackle pain and other symptoms:
1. Apply An Ice Pack
Applying an ice pack for about 10 to 30 minutes can help bring down the inflammation and pain. But remember, don’t let the ice touch your skin directly as it could cause a cold burn. Instead, use a damp towel to wrap the ice pack and then apply.2
2. Rest Your Shoulder
Resting your shoulder and protecting it from extra stress can help it heal. Here are some tips that’ll help you be mindful of your shoulder and ease some of that pain:
- Sleep on your back or on the side that’s not in pain. Placing a couple of pillows beneath the painful shoulder can also help.
- While sitting, make sure your head is raised above your shoulders, place your feet flat on the floor, and use a pillow or towel at your lower back for support.
- Don’t carry your purse or backpack over the shoulder that hurts and avoid activities that require you to raise your arms above your shoulders for long periods. Use a ladder or footstool to reach things at a height.
- Keep things that you need frequently, like your cell phone, close at hand so that you don’t need to reach for them and strain your shoulder.3
3. Try Physical Therapy Exercises
Exercises can help stretch and strengthen rotator cuff muscles to ease weakness, stiffness, and pain. Your physical therapist or doctor will evaluate you to figure out which muscles are too tight or weak. You may be advised to start off with passive exercises which involve the arm and help restore full movement to your shoulder. After that, you may be taught exercises that strengthen your shoulder muscles. Here are a couple of exercises that you may want to include in your program:
Crossover Arm Stretch
This is a stretching exercise. Hold your upper arm and pull the arm gently across the chest as far as it will go. Hold that position 30 seconds and relax. Now repeat the exercise with your other arm. Repeat this cycle 4 times a day for 5 to 6 days a week. Take care not to apply pressure on your elbow.
This is a strengthening exercise and you need an elastic stretch band to perform this exercise. Tie the ends of the elastic band together so that you have a three-foot long loop. Hook the loop onto a doorknob or something that’s stable and stand holding it. Your elbow should be at your side and bent. Now keeping the arm near your side, pull back the elbow, squeezing the shoulder blades together as you do so. Return slowly to the start position and repeat. Do this exercise 3 days a week.4 5
4. Drink Pineapple Juice
Pineapples contain an enzyme known as bromelain which can ease swelling and pain in soft tissue injuries. Animal studies have also found that bromelain can help in the growth of cells in injured tendons and promote healing. So help yourself to some pineapple juice to heal injured rotator cuff muscles and tendons. You can also take bromelain supplements for this after checking with your doctor.6
5. Have Turmeric
Inflammation plays a significant part in the pain and discomfort experienced due to rotator cuff injuries. Curcumin, a component present in turmeric, has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It has been found to suppress the activation of nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB), which is a protein involved in the regulation of the inflammatory response of your body. You can add turmeric to your cooking or brew yourself a cup of turmeric tea to experience its healing effects. Communities in Southeast Asia also have turmeric milk to enhance healing.
To prepare turmeric milk, add a teaspoon of ground turmeric to 175 ml of milk and bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Adding a pinch of pepper will help your body use the curcumin in turmeric better.7 8
6. Try Acupuncture
The ancient practice of acupuncture can help relieve shoulder pain caused by inflammation of rotator cuff tendons. Acupuncture is based on the ancient Chinese theory that a blockage or imbalance in the vital force called qi can cause health problems. Stimulating specific points on your body may restore the flow of qi and make you healthy again. One study that looked at sportsmen who were experiencing shoulder pain due to inflammation of rotator cuff tendons found that acupuncture using needles was effective at improving their pain.9
7. Explore Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy
Extracorporeal shock wave therapy passes sound waves through the skin to ease pain and promote the natural healing abilities of your body. According to a study, when this therapy was used to treat inflammation of rotator cuff tendons due to the abnormal deposition of calcium, it improved not only shoulder function and pain but also reduced the size of calcium deposits.10
|↑1, ↑2||Shoulder pain. National Health Service.|
|↑3||Rotator cuff – self-care. Penn State Hershey Medical Center.|
|↑4||Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.|
|↑5||Rotator cuff exercises. Penn State Hershey Medical Center.|
|↑6||Aiyegbusi, Ayoola I., Olaleye O. Olabiyi, Francis IO Duru, Cressie C. Noronha, and Abayomi O. Okanlawon. “A comparative study of the effects of bromelain and fresh pineapple juice on the early phase of healing in acute crush achilles tendon injury.” Journal of medicinal food 14, no. 4 (2011): 348-352.|
|↑7||Goggins, Aidan, and Glen Matten. The Sirtfood Diet. Simon and Schuster, 2018.|
|↑8||Buhrmann, Constanze, Ali Mobasheri, Franziska Busch, Constance Aldinger, Ralf Stahlmann, Azadeh Montaseri, and Mehdi Shakibaei. “Curcumin modulates nuclear factor κB (NF-κB)-mediated Inflammation in human tenocytes in vitro role of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/akt pathway.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 286, no. 32 (2011): 28556-28566.|
|↑9||Kleinhenz, Julia, Konrad Streitberger, Jürgen Windeler, Albert Güßbacher, Georg Mavridis, and Eike Martin. “Randomised clinical trial comparing the effects of acupuncture and a newly designed placebo needle in rotator cuff tendinitis.” Pain 83, no. 2 (1999): 235-241.|
|↑10||Gerdesmeyer, Ludger, Stefan Wagenpfeil, Michael Haake, Markus Maier, Markus Loew, Klaus Wörtler, Renee Lampe et al. “Extracorporeal shock wave therapy for the treatment of chronic calcifying tendonitis of the rotator cuff: a randomized controlled trial.” Jama 290, no. 19 (2003): 2573-2580.|